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October 10, 2020

Rely on your Training 

The water temperature was in the low 50’s. Visibility was decent at around 20+ feet.  I had seven Rockfish on the stringer clip that was attached to my weight belt. I had just speared my eighth fish, which was still affixed to the tri-pronged paralyzer tip of the pole-spear I was using. But that no longer mattered.  I was no longer concerned with the beauty of the undersea landscape, or the schools of fish occupying the frigid waters off of Neah Bay, in the far northwestern tip of the Olympic Peninsula.  The goal of limiting out my catch before making the slow ascent from the 65’ depth that I was hunting at, was of no consequence.  Within a few moments, as the way it often happens, my life went from fun and enjoyable to near death and tragedy.  At this rate, my wife would be a widow and my children would be fatherless.

We’ve all heard the phrase “Rely on your training” along with the harrowing stories of how lives were narrowly saved by doing such.  A police officer caught in a lethal ambush during a domestic violence call.  A surfer pinned down to the ocean floor by incessant and monstrous waves, or a medic working tirelessly in a mass-casualty laden treatment zone.  But this statement presupposes one major factor: sufficient training was accomplished prior to the event taking place.  In the absence of training, there is little for someone to do beyond crossing their fingers and hoping for the best.

Moments earlier I had checked the Pressure Gauge attached to the SCUBA rig I was using. The needle was just above the 500 PSI mark, plenty of time to finish up and make a controlled ascent to the surface.  Yet all of a sudden I felt as though I was sucking air through one of those small red coffee stir-straws one finds at a snack bar. I re-checked the pressure gauge and still, it read 500 PSI. However, when I tapped on the front of the glass, the needle moved and revealed the actual contents of my tank, Nothing. At this moment a feeling of panic started to rise in my gut.  I looked out at the massive rock structure in front of me, a hazardous diving location is known as Duncan Rock and found that I was being pulled deeper as a result of the down current and the weight-belt meant to counteract the buoyancy of the extra-thick wetsuit and dive gear.  I kicked hard while attempting to add air to my buoyancy compensator vest…nothing happened.  Meanwhile, those dark, cold, watery depths were getting darker, colder, and deeper by the second.

In our current day and age, specifically, the incidents that have impacted our nation in 2020, it feels perfectly reasonable to claim that we have no idea what to expect around the next corner.  From one day to the next, it’s anyone’s guess. So what do we do?  As the likelihood that traumatic events might reach out and impact our lives increases, it is our responsibility to become capable of responding appropriately to such a stimulus.   

I’m confident of two possible outcomes had I lacked the training to fall back on. One, I would have panicked and drowned, never making it to the surface, and therefore becoming fish-food. Two, I would have reached the surface too quickly, causing over-inflation injuries that would have likely spelled serious injury or death. Fortunately, I had a third option: stay calm, ditch my weight belt (which sadly had all my fish attached), and start the long slow journey to the surface. Doesn’t sound that hard, you say.  Unless you consider the emergency ascent rate of 30-feet per minute, all while slowly, and steadily breathing out the volume of air that is constantly expanding in your lungs as a result of decreasing pressure.  Fortunately, I’d previously accomplished this task from a similar depth in 2004, all while supervised and instructed by an experienced professional. That training, coupled with the water confidence skills I acquired during Indoc, allowed me to stave off the panic that was rising in my gut and allowed me to make a controlled ascent to the surface. 

The moral to my story is this: At the moment of my emergency, the time to prepare was yesterday.  Not literally, but you get the idea. Let the words of the Greek philosopher-poet Archilochus soak in: “We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.” 

In the absence of training, one has a long way to fall.  Even if you have no plans on participating in higher-risk activities like SCUBA diving, parachuting, or combat sports, that doesn’t exclude you from the dangers that plague our society. I’m confident that none of the victims of recent tragedies such as active shootings, riotous mob violence, or natural disasters, woke-up knowing of the traumatic events that lay in their future.   

For us to go from victim or casualty to survivor, we first must be trained in the things critical enough to save a life.  Now is the time for each of us to take responsibility for our safety and the safety of those around us.  We must never stop learning. We need to continually seek out new training, and build up our toolbox of life-saving skills. As you do so, you will confidently know that when your time comes to act, you’ll have the ability to rely on your training.

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